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'The Muslim population has declined in Assam'

September 05, 2019 12:23 IST

'After the NRC, it is proved that whatever the BJP was saying about illegal Bangladeshi migrant was a lie and Indian Muslims have their documents to prove their citizenship.'

IMAGE: Members of Assam Public Works, the NGO whose suit in the Supreme Court led to the National Register of Citizens, protest after the declaration of the NRC's final draft, August 31, 2019. Photograph: PTI Photo

In 1992, Hiteshwar Saikia, then chief minister of Assam, declared there were 3 million Bangladeshis living in Assam.

In 1997, Indrajit Gupta, then Union home minister and a Communist Party of India veteran, said there were 10 million illegal Bangladeshis living in India.

In 2004, then minister of state for home Sriprakash Jaiswal said there were 12 million illegal Bangladeshis in India.

Ever since the events leading to the 1971 War, the popular belief is that there was an influx of refugees from then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to India.

Illegal migration, in fact, was at the core of the six year-long Assam agitation which ended with an accord signed with then prime minsiter Rajiv Gandhi in 1985.

Among other things, the accord mandated that foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971, shall be expelled.

In 2013, the Supreme Court of India, hearing a petition by the NGO Assam Public Works, directed the Centre and the Assam government to begin the process for updating the National Register of Citizens, a process that saw many twists and turns before culminating in the publication of the final list on August 31, 2019.

The cut-off date for the NRC was March 1971 and every citizen had to establish her/his credentials that either s/he or their parents or grandparents were citizens of India prior to March 1971.

After five years of a door to door survey and meeting 32.5 million citizens of Assam, the NRC found out that there were 1,906,657 illegal migrants in Assam.

The All India United Democratic Front, which is a prominent Musliim-centric political party in Assam, had initially expressed reservations over the exercise, but was prompt in welcoming the final NRC once it was published on August 31, 2019.

"There is a 50:50 chance as the original illegal Bangladeshi migrants are Hindus," AIUDF Spokesperson Aminul Islam tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

 

What is your party's stance post NRC? Is your party satisfied?

Some 19 lakhs are out of the NRC till now and we feel most of them are Indian citizens who have not been included.

Many of them have their grandparents's name in the NRC of 1951 too.

Many have documents to prove that. Now we are thinking to go to the Supreme Court to get relief for these people.

Right now the foreigners tribunal is looking into the case. The way they have worked in the past shows that they declare 95 percent of people as foreigners whenever they take up the case.

We have examples where people whose grandparents were Indian citizens in 1951, but were still called foreigners by the tribunal in the past. They had land records too, but on some flimsy excuse they were declared Bangladeshis.

So our party is not hopeful that these people will get justice in the tribunal.

For example, you don't have land in your name even if your father had, so you are a Bangladeshi?

Will life be different for the Muslims of Assam now as they will not be called Bangladeshis anymore which was the case before the NRC?

In Assam. 1.21 crore Muslim population exists. And out of this around 8 lakh to 10 lakh Muslims have not been included in the NRC.

In terms of election process or franchise process, not much will change for the Muslims, but the fact is the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is unhappy with the NRC.

The BJP wanted 70 lakhs Muslims to be out of the NRC, but when the result came out only 8 lakh to 10 lakh Muslims were out.

They are now saying they will challenge the NRC or will get a new rule from the Centre. Now they are saying they want to give citizenship to only Hindus whose names have been excluded and not to Muslims.

The NRC was done under the supervision of the Supreme Court. The BJP wanted to throw out 70 lakh Muslims from Assam, but they failed.

Now after the NRC it is proved that whatever the BJP was saying about illegal Bangladeshi migrants was a lie and Indian Muslims have their documents to prove their citizenship.

But it is not the BJP alone. Other party leaders have said that more than one crore Bangladeshis live in India. So why are you blaming the BJP alone?

Even then Congress chief minister Hiteshwar Saikia said in the assembly in 1993 that there are 30 lakh Bangladeshi Muslims in Assam.

Even Sriprakash Jaiswal said in Parliament that 50 lakh Bangladeshis are in Assam,but nobody had done any survey. Nobody verified the facts.

Now the NRC did a survey in a scientific manner and disproved their claims.

All these parties had a political agenda and there was no truth in their statement.

Now many people say that illegal Bangladeshi Muslims forged Indian citizenship documents and therefore their number in the NRC is too low while Bangladeshi Hindus failed to procure Indian documents in time.

There is no chance of forged documents in the NRC.

Every document submitted by any individual has been cross-checked at the relevant offices. They have checked their authenticity and only then sent it back to the NRC. If there were fake documents, then they did not take it. They did all the process through a scientific process.

Even after that, the district magistrate's investigative team went home to home and did their own investigation so that there were no loopholes left in tracing any illegal Bangladeshi immigrant.

They did a physical verification and also verified the family tree. They got the entire family out of their home and did a verification of each and every person. So to say that there are fake documents submitted by illegal Bangladeshis is totally wrong.

Where then have the illegal Bangladeshis disappeared in Assam?

This was a lie the BJP told the people.

If you see the pre-Independence population of India and the election of 1937, you will find out that out of 108 assembly members there were 34 Muslim MLAs.

Today out of 126 MLAs there are only 28 MLAs/

By this calculation it shows many Muslims from Assam migrated to East Pakistan after 1947.

The Muslim population has declined in Assam and not increased as being projected by the BJP. Their claims are a lie.

If all Muslims had stayed on in Assam after 1947, then today out of 126 MLAs there would have been 45 to 50 Muslim MLAs and not 28 MLAs.

But illegal Bangladeshis came to India before and after the 1971 War with Pakistan. Or are you saying they didn't come to India?

The NRC proved that the BJP was lying about the Muslim population of Assam.

Right now, there is peace in Assam. We are appealing to everyone to accept the truth and let peace prevail in Assam forever.

We need to see now how to work together and make Assam prosper. For 40 years they lied about the Muslim population, but at least now accept the truth.

Is it not true there has been a demographic change in the population of Assam? In 6-7 districts Muslims outnumber Hindus, which was not the case earlier?

This is a wrong claim. Before Independence there were 28 percent Muslims in Assam. The last census (2011) shows that there are 34 percent Muslims in Assam.

The reason for this 6 percent rise in the Muslim population is because Meghalaya and Nagaland were a part of Assam state.

When they were bifurcated and made tribal states, Muslims could not buy or sell any land in Nagaland or Meghalaya so the Muslims of those states migrated to Assam.

Therefore, the population of Muslims rose from 28 percent to 34 percent, but this population increase is not because of illegal migration of Bangladeshi Muslims.

Are you saying no demographic change has happened in Assam where the Muslim population overtook the Hindu population in the last three decades?

There were three districts in Assam where the population of Muslims was always more, but this was the case from 1947.

Now there are nine districts where the Muslim population is more than Hindus, but the reason is that those three districts where the Muslim population was more, they made it into nine districts. Therefore the Muslim population has increased in nine districts.

Like Goalpara district which had a majority of Muslima. They divided Goalpara into four districts -- Bongaigaon, Dhubri, Kokrajhar and Goalpara.

The same way Nagaon district was made into four districts in which all four have more Muslims than Hindus.

So in 1947 there were three districts with a majority Muslim population. When the government divides those three districts into nine districts, the result will be obvious.

The BJP just wants politics in the NRC. They know this truth, but just want to inflame their vote bank.

Do you feel they will now bring in the Citizenship Amendment Bill to allow only Bangladeshi Hindus to stay on in Assam and not the Muslims?

I think there is a 50:50 chance as the original illegal Bangladeshi migrants are Hindus.

ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) secretary Anup Chetia said that the illegal migrants are not Muslims, but Hindus. He has stayed for 20 years in Bangladesh.

SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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